Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Beginnings of An Old Story

"You must be freezing," the old woman said—who, incidentally, smelled as if she bathed daily in urine and feces. "Come warm yourself by the fire." She pointed to the group of people huddled around the trashcan. The cars overhead rumbled by steadily, their occupants oblivious to the people below.

Sammy gathered her pillowcase more tightly in her hand. The pillowcase held the only possessions she had left. After a moment of consideration (and only a moment—it didn't take much persuading in this weather, no matter how the person making the offer smelled) she said, "Okay."

"There's food, too. Soup. We got it from you-know-where." Sammy knew the woman just couldn't remember the name of the shelter from which the food came, but in the dark, the woman's statement sounded secretive. Sammy swallowed a lot of things in that moment: her pride, her sense of dignity, and the growing sense of dread she felt throbbing in the middle of her throat—the sense that she'd run out of chances, that she was becoming invisible, like the group standing under the bridge. But she was hungry and cold. She'd take the offer. 

They walked toward the overpass, making their way slowly because of the woman's bad back and knees. Sammy held her elbow, trying not to breathe too deeply. She imagined the stench would be worse when they got to the fire, and she told herself to get over it. It was, and she did. 

When they got to the overpass, a man who was sitting on an up-ended crate offered her his seat. Sammy thought back to all the times she'd been on the train, surrounded by bankers, lawyers, salesmen, and students—supposedly respectable people—and only one time had anyone offered her a seat, a small, Spanish-speaking woman who undoubtedly made no more than ten thousand a year, judging by her clothes. 

At first, she tried to wave the man off, but he took her by the elbow and sat her down. Then he went about getting her some soup and some bread. The old woman took a seat on the ground beside her. 

"Oh, you should take the crate," Sammy said, starting to get up.

"No, dear, I'm fine," the old woman said cheerfully. "Doctor tells me sitting on the ground is better for my health." She cackled heartily as she said this, as if she was a comedienne trying out a new joke on the house before she took the stage. "Once I get some soup in me, I'll be as good as new."

"I don't think I ever got your name," Sammy said.

"I never told you," the woman said. She shrugged at Sammy's expression of surprise. "Anyway," she said, as if she'd gotten off-subject. "I have a lot of names. You will, too, if you stay one of us."

"One of you?" Sammy said. She tried to keep her expression neutral. It wouldn't do to insult the only people who'd offered her warmth, food, and a place to sit in the past two weeks.

"Yes, Samantha Charmaigne, one of us," the woman said, rolling her eyes. Sammy couldn't be sure, but it looked to her as if the woman's irises rolled all the way back to the opposite side of her eyeballs. For a split second the woman looked as though she was blind, or an alien. Sammy couldn't help but think of Reagan from The Exorcist. She decided to put it out of her mind. Then she realized she'd never told the woman her last name. 


Natalie said...

Ooo I love the ending. Totally got me there. Thanks for sharing! I didn't hear any "p" problems:)

fairyhedgehog said...

It's a great story and even better when you read it to us.

freddie said...

Thank you both! I enjoyed doing this.

Glad the "p" problems went away.

Julie Weathers said...

Oh, this is wonderful, both the excerpt and the reading.

Good job.

freddie said...

Thanks, Julie!